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Background: Several reviews have examined the health benefits of participation in specific sports, such as baseball, cricket, cross-country skiing, cycling, downhill skiing, football, golf, judo, rugby, running and swimming. However, new primary studies on the topic have recently been published, and the respective meta-analytic evidence needs to be updated. Objectives: To systematically review, summarise and appraise evidence on physical health benefits of participation in different recreational sports. Methods: Searches for journal articles were conducted in PubMed/MEDLINE, Scopus, SpoLit, SPORTDiscus, Sports Medicine & Education Index and Web of Science. We included longitudinal and intervention studies investigating physical health outcomes associated with participation in a given sport among generally healthy adults without disability. Results: A total of 136 papers from 76 studies conducted among 2.6 million participants were included in the review. Our meta-analyses of available evidence found that: (1) cycling reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 16% (pooled hazard ratio [HR] = 0.84; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.80, 0.89), all-cause mortality by 21% (HR = 0.79; 95% CI: 0.73, 0.84), cancer mortality by 10% (HR = 0.90; 95% CI: 0.85, 0.96) and cardiovascular mortality by 20% (HR = 0.80; 95% CI: 0.74, 0.86); (2) football has favourable effects on body composition, blood lipids, fasting blood glucose, blood pressure, cardiovascular function at rest, cardiorespiratory fitness and bone strength (p < 0.050); (3) handball has favourable effects on body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness (p < 0.050); (4) running reduces the risk of all-cause mortality by 23% (HR = 0.77; 95% CI: 0.70, 0.85), cancer mortality by 20% (HR = 0.80; 95% CI: 0.72, 0.89) and cardiovascular mortality by 27% (HR = 0.73; 95% CI: 0.57, 0.94) and improves body composition, cardiovascular function at rest and cardiorespiratory fitness (p < 0.010); and (5) swimming reduces the risk of all-cause mortality by 24% (HR = 0.76; 95% CI: 0.63, 0.92) and improves body composition and blood lipids (p < 0.010). Conclusions: A range of physical health benefits are associated with participation in recreational cycling, football, handball, running and swimming. More studies are needed to enable meta-analyses of health benefits of participation in other sports. PROSPERO registration number CRD42021234839.

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Journal article


Sports Medicine - Open

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